Written by Daniel Champlin, Dan
Please note that this information was accurate as of the time of publishing and was updated again in early 2012. Each country's rules will be different, however, and this particular article was based on personal experiences moving a parrot from the USA to Sweden. In the midst of all the confusion, please use this article not as laws set in stone - as even on this particular route the laws could change at any time - but as a guide.
So you've decided to move abroad. You've already found an international shipping company to get any furniture and items you wish to take, you have (or will soon have) your permits/visas in hand, and are almost ready to go. The only problem is that you have birds you wish to take with you - what now? This article will hopefully you save countless hours of research.
The first thing you need to do is find out the taxonomy of your bird. This is important when figuring out if it is on CITES (more on that next), and if so, which appendix. Some searches on Google (or if you'd like, you can post on the message board asking) will yield this information easily. All parrots are in the Psittaciformes order and in one of three families: Cacatuidae (cockatoos), Loriidae (lories and lorikeets), and Psittacidae (other parrots).
Next, you need to find out if your bird is on CITES or not. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and is signed by dozens of countries worldwide in order to protect both animals and plants from extinction. Most countries are involved in CITES. A full list of all countries involved can be found on this page.
On the CITES website, there is a search page to find out if your bird is on there, but I do not recommend it as it is misleading -- many times the list will not have all of the specific species listed but instead just their order or family (which is why it is important to know this). The gist is this: all parrots (Psittaciformes), but for peach-faced lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis), cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus), and budgies (Melopsittacus undulatus, also known as parakeets and budgerigars) are on CITES.
The species on CITES are then divided into three parts: Appendix I, II, and III. Appendix I is for the most endangered species that are threatened with extinction - if your bird is under this category, it will be extremely hard to move it internationally, unfortunately (but not impossible). Appendix II, where most parrots lie, is for species that are not threatened with extinction at this point but may one day become threatened if trade is not regulated. Appendix III is simply for species that are not at risk to be endangered but that have been added at the request of a country so other countries will help regulate its trade (and often only applies to a few countries). See this list to find out which appendix your parrot is under - find where the Psittaciformes section begins and see if your bird species is listed. If your specific species isn't listed individually (many cockatoos and Amazons are under Appendix I), then it falls under the general Psittaciformes category, which is under Appendix II.
What does it mean to you if your bird is on CITES? Since species under CITES are regulated more carefully when it comes to trade and moving, you will have to jump through more obstacles to move your bird to your new country with you (but don't be discouraged -- it is certainly not impossible, unless your bird is under Appendix I in which case it may actually be impossible -- you will need to check). This usually means nothing more than working with one or two extra permits (CITES export/import permits) on top of the regular export/import permits (and the document itself may be just one anyway…just a longer version). If you are moving internationally and only own birds in the three species that are not on CITES, consider yourself lucky - your moving process will be easier and not involve these extra steps.
Please note that while I did focus on parrots on the above, CITES includes all types of birds, so it is vital to check the link above to see if your bird is on there.
Most forms, whether they are just the regular ones or the CITES ones, will require a lot of information about your bird. Here are some of the requirements almost all countries require for exportation/importation.
Your bird will need have some sort of identification - this means a leg band and/or microchip (and most often it is best to have both). If your bird did not have a band (closed ring) put on when he was a baby, you will need to get one put on (split ring band). If your bird has a microchip, you will most likely not need a band as well, but you should double check this with your departure and destination countries.
You will also need to have a microchip implanted into your bird. As long as it weighs 90-100g or above and is at least a few months old, it should be eligible for this. You need to find out which standard for microchips your new country uses - almost all countries, but for the United States, use the ISO standard (one more digit than the American standard). This means that if you are moving from the United States, you cannot put in a regular microchip as it would not be able to be read when you arrive at the new country (well, that's not exactly true - if you want to put in a regular microchip, that is alright if you also bring along with you a scanner that can read that chip, but that would be much more expensive; in addition, many US vet scanners can also scan the ISO standard and so it even works in the US). Thankfully, AVID, the most common microchip company in the US, also has what they call a "Eurochip," which uses ISO standard. To get this chip, you will often have to put in a special order for it at your vet office since few vet offices carry these. It will also cost more (approximately $90 instead of the regular $30-40) but will be worth it and a lot cheaper than getting your own scanner (which can run in the hundreds of dollars). This also applies to people from countries using the ISO standard (like all European countries) coming to the US -- you may need a chip using the American standard (or bring along an ISO chip reader).
Another thing you will need to know is the gender of your bird. If you cannot visually sex it, which is the case with many species, you will need to get it DNA sexed (usually about thirty dollars in the US).
There are other requirements (like statements from your original bird breeder) but those vary from country to country and are listed in each other's forms so I will not mention those. You will probably have to prove that your bird was born in captivity and not taken from the wild, but some purchase receipts or breeder statements (or similar documents) should take care of this requirement.
Forms and More
You will to find out which departments from each country you will have to deal with and get both export and import forms to be able to move your bird with. With the US, you will have to deal with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. You only have one form to work with, even if your bird is under CITES (the form applies to both CITES and non-CITES birds). For import and export permits for the US, see see this page -- you will need form 3-200-46. Many countries often have two separate forms - one general one for all pets (or a specific one for birds) and then one for CITES. Be sure to find out from your country where you can find this out, get the forms needed, etc. (this information and the forms themselves are often available on the department's website).
Be sure to find out how soon you need to apply to get your permits and forms approved. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends you apply at least three months in advice for an export form, while Sweden, for example, only requires you to apply a month in advance for an import. Apply as early as possible. Also make sure you check and pay the fees in the ways they wish you to.
Finally, you will need a health certificate for your bird. This varies greatly from country to country, so it is important to check. This is often done either several months before your move, at the same time as the form application, or just right before departure (as is the case with European Union imports); the import/export forms should say what is required here. Find out whether this needs to be endorsed by someone as well. Any regular vet can get you this health certificate, but in the US for example, it needs to be done by an APHIS-approved vet (ask your vet if he/she is) and needs to be certified by an APHIS vet at an APHIS office. To find your local APHIS vet and set up an appointment, see this page. In addition, quarantines may be involved -- be sure to check -- but this might be able to be done in your own house (in a room away from other birds).
With imports to a European Union member country, you will be using a generic EU health certificate form (there are no country-specific health forms now, as bird imports are done on an EU level). Your local agency (such as APHIS in the US) can provide you with the specific form (bilingual English-local language; see here for the English-Swedish version). Due to bird flu concerns, in addition to having this form filled out just a few days before your departure, you will also have to choose a specific method to be able to provide that your bird is free from the bird flu (as described in the form); there are four options to choose from, and the one which I found to be least stressful for my bird was the one that involves a ten day quarantine (at your own home if you would like, which is convenient) as well as a bird flu test to make sure that your bird is bird flu free. There are surely not many agencies that are able to test for the bird flu, however, making a few calls (to for example a local agricultural agency, university labs, etc.) should provide good results. The test itself is quite easy and the result only takes a few hours.
For exports from the US, APHIS also provides a generic health certificate used for countries that do not have their own. To be on the safe side, it is probably a good idea to get your vet to fill this one out as well at the same time as you have she/he fill out the above form. All of these health forms have to be verified by an APHIS vet, as mentioned previously.
Before and at the Airport
You now have all your permits, the health certificate, etc. - your bird is ready to go! Now, you need to find out how to get your bird over to your new country. You will most likely be going by airplane. Flights can be stressful for your bird but you can make it as painless as possible (for both of you).
You need a good airline transportation kennel/container to take your bird in. It cannot be very large but try to make it as comfortable as possible. Airlines often allow you to purchase one of these directly from them. Obviously, it needs to have ways for air to get in. Make sure the bird has plenty of food in there. You can have a water bowl in there though it may spill, so if you can get your bird to drink from a water bottle (train him months in advance), this may be a good method to go for. it is recommended that you put in a lot of fruits/veggies/etc. Uthat have a high water content so that this will be the bird's source of water during the duration of the flights. The bottom of the crate should have something like aspen shavings to keep things clean (aspen shavings are not as good as some other materials in absorbing and the like but are the best ones for birds, safety-wise, as they are not toxic). The crate must also be leak-proof, strong, and sturdy. Since I personally had a connection in a city and my bird came with me in the plane, I used disabled toilets in my city of connection (where it was a little room completely closed off) as well as the airplane toilets to take my bird out for a few minutes, so he could stretch his wings and drink/eat from my hand, as he was not doing that at all from the crate.
If you are moving to a country within your own continent, it is possible that your bird will be able to go in the cabin with you. For example, if you are going from the US to Canada or vice versa, Air Canada, Delta, and possibly other airlines will allow birds in cabin.
If you are going across the Atlantic from the US to Europe or vice versa, your bird will most likely not be able to go in cabin with you. A few airlines, like Air France, allow budgies, canaries, and finches to go in cabin (but only a couple of them), and thankfully, Delta Airlines allows all sorts of birds (as long as it is small enough to fit into a create that fits under the seat); if you have the possibility to take your bird inside the cabin, DO IT. Otherwise, it will have to go in cargo (where, since you cannot take your bird to the bathroom with you to feed him and give him water, having water-heavy foods etc and a good create become extra important). Where pets go, the temperature and pressure are regulated like in the cabin. Since it is often dark and since the ride will be bumpy, your bird will probably be scared but it should be fine (the chances of death during such transportation are small -- - 1% of pet air travel has incidents - but the risk is always there so no matter how minuscule be sure to assess them - however, it will most likely just be a stressful experience for your bird).
Also, keep in mind that most airlines will not allow birds to fly in the cargo if it is too hot or too cold outside (because when they are being loaded and unloaded they will be exposed to the elements). Most airlines do not allow pets to fly if it is colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.44 degrees Celsius) so keep this in mind when choosing which airport to fly out from and during which part of year (some airlines don't allow pets at all during the really hot and really cold months).
If your bird will be going in the cabin with you, be sure to find out the plane types of all the flights you will be on and then contact your airline to find out the exact dimensions of the space under the seat, so you know how large the crate can be.
If you are moving from the United States to Europe and your city's airport has no direct flights to Europe, you will obviously need to get to one that does (this also applies to anyone in any country that needs to get to a city that has international flights). If you will be flying to this city, try to find an airline that will allow your bird to go in the cabin with you so that at least this flight it won't have to go in the cargo. One example of such an airline that allows any bird in the cabin on national US flights is Delta. You will then need to make sure you have a good connection time in that case.
Make sure that you get the shortest flights possible -- and also the smallest number of flights. This is essential to make the rides as least stressful for your bird as possible. If you are going to Europe from the US, for example, try to get a direct flight to the city you will be moving to and avoid unneeded connections in other countries. If you are going to a city that has no direct flights and you need to connect anywhere, at least try make that connection be in the same country you are moving to (i.e. if you are moving to Linköping, Sweden, you obviously can't fly direct to there so you will have to connect somewhere - try to make that connection be Stockholm and not a city in another country like Copenhagen, Denmark, where the import/export rules would be complicated, as you are entering another country). If some of the journey can be done by car/bus/train, this could be more ideal as you could be with your bird instead of having to have him potentially in the cargo hold.
Be sure to book your flights early (i.e. at least a few months in advance). In cabin, airlines often only allow two pets per flight so if you wait too long your bird may not be able to go on with you. If your bird is going in the cargo, it won't be as hard as they allow more pets there -- however, it is still recommended that you do it early as you never know how many pets may be traveling that day. (In the United States alone, over half a million dogs and cats travel in planes per year -- and that is dogs and cats alone!) It is also recommended that you fly on a weekday and non-peak time - not only will this be cheaper for you, there will probably be less pets trying to get on that flight (this applies to both cabin and cargo travel) and may make the situation overall much easier.
When you arrive at the airport, the situation varies country per country. In the US, your papers will need to be checked by a US Fish and Wildlife Service officer to make sure it is "cleared for takeoff." This almost always applies to when you're leaving a country and very often to when you're arriving in your new one too, so make sure you double check this with both countries. Most large airports will have a vet available for this, but you will often have to set up an appointment beforehand (this makes it especially important to give yourself a lot of time at the airport and if it applies, long layovers). If you are connecting within the US before leaving for your next country, this can be done at either airport, as long as it has such an office. For exporting from the US, you have to call the US Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Inspector to arrange an inspection of your bird. You should do this at least 72 hours before you plan on leaving. At this time, you should also get the Declaration for Importation/Exportation of Wildlife (Form 3-177 at the Fish and Wildlife Service website) to provide to the inspector at the airport. You will need information from both your export and import permits, but since you only do this with 72 hours to go you should already have them.
Most European countries do not require quarantine of birds upon arrival (unless you chose this as one of the options to verify that your bird does not have bird flu, as described above when talking about health certificates), so I will not get into this, but it is important you double check this with your destination country. When arriving in Europe, however, you will have to have an airport vet check your bird as well as have a customs or similar officer check your documents and submit any forms to the agricultural agency of the country, if this is required. Given the vet requirement, you will most likely have to fly into one of the larger airports in a country (as not all have a vet), but it is mostly larger airports that receive international and cross-continental flights, and so this should not pose a problem. The particular vet requirement may not be necessary, so double check this.
A Possible Return
If you are only traveling temporarily to a country and wish to bring your bird along, the procedure for you to take your bird to that country will the same at this. The only difference is that you will also then need export permits from your destination country and re-import permits from your original country (this also applies if you moved and then later on wish to move back). Many countries make it much easier to re-import a bird who originally came from that country.
If you are taking other pets with you, such as a dog, it will most likely require other things like rabies and other shots as well as quarantine. The procedure will be similar to what has been outlined in this article, but make sure to look into the details to see exactly how it differs and what else you may be required to do.
Moving your bird with you to a new country can indeed be challenging and will cost a bit. Please do not be overwhelmed by everything you have read here. It is certainly possible and once you get into it, you will see that it is not as hard as it seems -- just take it one stage at a time. Many have done it and so can you! When I did all the research for this (as I myself moved overseas), it was very hard to get all the information/steps required as they all came from countless places/sources and never came together - confusion and stress were abound and it took months to find out all of the right information. Start early and plan. Do not be afraid to ask the local agencies in your country of departure and arrival; I got countless amounts of help from all sort of people both at the national and local levels in the US, Sweden, and EU, and they are all not only extremely helpful but also very friendly and willing to help out in whatever way they could. These people are very knowledgeable and so do not be afraid to ask--given the number of agencies you will be dealing with that will have different requirements, you need to. Of course, there are also companies specializing in pet moves abroad that can arrange many things for you, though expect to pay dearly for such services. If you choose this route, try to find a company that specializes at least partly in birds, as most focus on dogs and cats; the couple I contacted just to find out prices seemed to know less about the process than I did.
While this article has been heavily biased toward the route that I took (export from the US, import into Sweden/the EU), meaning that other routes will require a good deal of research as much may be different from what was described here (and even if you are going from the US to Europe, rules change and so please check and double check everything), my hope is that this article will facilitate the process and save you some hours of research. After all the information had been gathered, the process was actually all surprisingly easily - gathering the information was the hardest step and by reading this article, you have already taken care of a big chunk of it! I am pleased to say that my bird export/import went smoothly and so yours certainly can as well.